Some weeks ago I read a nice write-up on the subject of transmedia storytelling over at Nicely Said. It had a fairly thorough dissection of the whats and whatnots of transmedia, of the history and of different examples (such as the usual suspects “Why So Serious”, The Walking Dead etc). The post looked at the strengths of transmedia storytelling, but also listed some of the weaknesses with such an approach.
I believe we can learn quite a lot from not just focusing on the possibilities and strengths of a transmedia storytelling approach, but also acknowledging what challenges and limitations there are. Drawing on what I’ve been involved in and observed I wanted to address the five points of weakness the article identifies, in the hope of being able to be of use for other creators who might come up against these limitations.
- Coordinating and collaborating with individual sectors of a media conglomerate can be a challenge.
This is absolutely true. Not that many of us will be working on projects that would involve many sectors of a true media conglomerate, of course. I doubt – although I’m happy to be proven wrong! – that I’ll be called upon to work on the next parts of the Star Wars franchise, for instance.
But of course it doesn’t have to be something as humongous as such a project for this challenge to arise. From my experience, simply creating something for television while at the same time wanting to involve marketing, publishing and radio runs the risk of becoming quite a struggle. The solution, as I’ve found, is to involve all of these at a very early stage, foster engagement within the different sectors and allow for a certain amount of self-governance. If these sectors merely feel they’re acting on orders, there’ll be less creativity and more stumbling blocks. By engaging them from the outset, and by being prepared to give up control of parts of your story and story world, the chance of something engaging emerging increases.
2. While entry points may entice a range of consumers, it may also provide many points to push consumers away.
This is less of an issue than the writer perhaps makes it out to be. It all goes back to knowing your project well and knowing your intended audiences well. If you do that, you’ll have ample guidance when it comes to creating entry points that entice the people you’d want to engage with your project. So research and early outreach is the key here.
3. It could get hard to understand the entire dynamic of a franchise if you have several content creators.
This is why creating the story world is the most important part of the initial phase of a project. That, and boiling it all down to something that can be easily pitched to anyone. Think elevator pitch, with the backup of a trove of information for those who would be inclined to delve further into your stories and content. With such a foundation, creators will be able to freely express themselves in the areas they are proficient in, while still retaining the overarching feel and expression of the project as a whole.
4. Balancing content between hardcore fans and casual fans is a daunting task.
Well, yes. There is always a limit to what you can create, and if you have an engaging project you will entice hardcore fans that will have exhausted your content sooner than you would want to.
What I’ve seen work is to not try to keep control of everything, but instead actively encourage audience interaction and engagement and foster the creative forces of such hardcore fans (think fan fiction, cosplays etc). This will keep the hardcore fans engaged and the casual fans with a never-ending stream of content related (often fiercely dogmatic at that, as the hardcore fans might soon have embraced the story world much firmer than most creators ever could). The key is to not be afraid to lose control over at least some parts of the narrative. The users will, ultimately, still recognise you, the creator, and your content as the “official” narrative strand.
5. Not all stories are suitable for transmedia storytelling.
Here I am inclined to disagree somewhat. OK, not all stories are obvious vehicles for transmedia storytelling. But I’ve yet to see a story that couldn’t benefit from applying transmedia storytelling principles to it. Whatever the story is, fleshing out the story world around it will allow you to look at the story from more angles. Who knows, new stories might even arise from that story world, stories that your original content can benefit from and vice versa.
To conclude, yes, there are limitations to transmedia storytelling. For the most part though, these limitations are less a hindrance and more a chance for you to reassess what you’re working on and evolve and enhance it to make it even better.
Agree? Disagree? Let everyone know below!